The cool, maritime climate of England is essential to making some of the world’s most complex and interesting wines. Although the island’s climate is basically the same as that of France’s, the soils are quite different, resulting in very different wines. (In many cases, the grapes are grown in the same soils in France and England, yet the resulting wines taste nothing alike.) The maritime climate of England is the result of the warm Gulf Stream meeting the cold waters of the North Sea. (The land masses block the warm air and Gulf Stream from going much further north, so they give England mild weather and a steady supply of rain.)
Winemakers in the cool climate of England are a rare breed. While most of the country’s vineyards are in the south, they have been mostly overshadowed by the warmer climate in the south. Cooler temperatures don’t just make for a more comfortable climate in the summer, they can also make for some unique wines, with grapes having a more distinct flavor.
Although England is not usually associated with wine, it has been producing wine since Roman times. Thanks to the country’s cool climate and fertile soil, many of the vineyards planted in the mid-20th century are now bearing fruit.
The climate is tempered by the Gulf Stream and the limestone soils are favorable for the production of sparkling wines.
As for the style of English wines, there is still room for interpretation.
I don’t think you can define a typical English wine, and why should we? says Sam Lindo, a winemaker in the Camel Valley in the southwest of the country. Everyone has the right to be different.
English viticulture is currently concentrated in three main regions: Sussex, Kent and Surrey. Three other regions – Hampshire, East Anglia and South West Anglia – are considered promising. The country’s organizational system is the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). This system groups wines not by quality, but by style.
HarvestBiddenden Vineyards in Kent, England / Photo: Saltwick Media
Sussex is located in the southeast of the country and is divided into two parts, the east and the west. This region with a cool climate is considered one of the most important wine regions in England because of its large sparkling wine cellars and is also known for its wine centre. This program, located at Plumpton College, offers a Masters in Viticulture and Enology. Despite these laurels, Sussex has yet to achieve BOB status.
Sussex produces sparkling wines using the traditional method, including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. German grape varieties such as Donfelder, Bacchus and Riesling are used for the production of still wines, as well as the French varieties Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. They all thrive in cooler climates, with a predominance of white wine and a limited amount of rosé.
I don’t think you can define a typical English wine, and why should we? -Sam Lindo, Camel Valley
With over 1,700 acres of vineyards, Sussex has the largest concentration of vineyards in the UK. The soils are varied, but perhaps the best known are those of Cretaceous age, which form part of an ancient system extending eastwards from the western boundary of the area with Hampshire. It is the continuation of the same chalk line that extends through Paris and the Champagne region.
There are also around 50 wineries in the south east of the country, in Kent, including Biddenden, which was established in 1969. Kent is known as the garden of England and orchards and other agricultural crops have long dominated the vineyards.
However, climate change has drawn the attention of many champagne producers to Kent. In 2017, Domaine Evremond, Taittinger’s nascent internal project, began planting vineyards in Kent.
In the cooler climate, grape varieties like Ortega, Bacchus and all the grapes used in Champagne thrive. The soil composition varies from clay, sand, slate to chalk.
Hambledon Vineyard is the oldest commercial winery in England / Photo: Chris Dixon
Surrey is rich in limestone, which provides excellent drainage for the vines. Many of our geological features are similar to those of Champagne, says Andy Kershaw, assistant winemaker at Denbies Estate, one of England’s largest producers.
This is the sunniest region in the UK, with longer ripening days and a harvest that lasts until October. There are also sub-regions in Surrey, such as. B. Surrey Hills. According to Kershaw, the area has a microclimate and hilly terrain. It offers southern slopes for the plantings of the winegrowers.
I think England is really one of the most interesting wine regions to work in. -Tobias Tullberg, Hambledon Vineyard.
In this area is the import of champagne. In 2016, Pommery partnered with English producer Hattingley Valley to take advantage of the region’s terroir.
The climate is varied enough to produce many different grape varieties.
We currently grow 12 different varieties at Denbies Manor, says Kershaw. They range from noble varieties to lesser-known varieties such as Reichensteiner and Ortega.
Climate change has dramatically changed viticulture in Surrey and across the country.
The gradual rise in average temperatures has enabled the English wine industry to gain a foothold on the world stage, especially in terms of consistent quality, Mr Kershaw said. While global warming has left established regions in trouble, some colder regions are becoming the face of the future.
In Hampshire, west of Sussex, lies Hambledon Vineyard, the oldest commercial vineyard in England. It was founded in the 1950s when Major General Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones hoped to produce the famous Seyval Blanc wine.
Over the years, the vineyard has also been planted with Champagne grape varieties, as this region is favourable to cool climate and sparkling grape varieties.
The fine Upper Cretaceous white chalk found in Hampshire is exactly the same as the Côte de Blanc in Champagne, explains Tobias Tullberg, winemaker at Hambledon Vineyard farm. It’s not even that they look alike. It’s exactly the same. It appears on this side of the canal.
Camel Valley Family Hotel is located in the southwest of England / Photo Camel Valley
The soil is excellent for Chardonnay and even Pinot Noir, says Tullberg. Hampshire’s southern slopes also produce shades of Pinot Meunier, a grape variety often considered less noble than Champagne’s other two main grape varieties.
Tullberg believes there is both capital and terroir in Hampshire and across the country.
So I think England is really one of the most interesting wine regions to work in, he says.
East Anglia is a combination of two English counties, Norfolk and Suffolk, which lie north and east of London. Unlike many other wine regions in England, East Anglia has clay soil, which allows for a wide range of varieties to be grown. The Rondeau, Schonburger and Haxelrebe grape varieties thrive here, but some winemakers also grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
South West England
The southwest of England is relatively untouched by aspiring winemakers. But some renowned winemakers have taken advantage of the relative anonymity of the region and the diversity of its soils, especially slate and clay.
Because of the cool climate, the grapes grow very slowly and the ripening time is 30 to 40 days longer than in Champagne, says Lindo of Camel Valley about the region. This means that the grapes retain much more of the subtle characteristics of underripeness, which can be very satisfying.
When Lindo’s parents founded Camel Valley in 1989, vineyards were as scarce as swimming pools, he says. People were struggling to sell the wine they produced. This is no longer true.
Camel Valley began as a non-carbonated wine company and began producing sparkling wines the traditional way in 1995.
Viticulture here has also benefited from climate change. The yields are higher now, Lindo says, and it’s much easier than it used to be. We are where Champaign was in the 1950s. We have a long way to go before we see the difficulties they are facing now.
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